Shepherds False and True

A shepherd tended a flock of sheep on the hills  At night, they were herded into a sturdy sheep pen made of field stone. The pen was solid and protected them all from predators. The shepherd made perfunctory checks on the sheep each night and went through the motions of his job each day. No one could fault him  for not carrying out the basic tasks that he went through like clockwork. Every day, the same routines without fail. That was the job he got paid for.

At dawn one morning, an injured sheep showed up at the door of the pen, waking him with pitiful bleating. It was not his. He had no way to know where the sheep had come from. It was limping and blood was coming out of a wound.

The shepherd was annoyed.  He didn’t have time to deal with it. The animal looked like it was dying anyway and probably would wander off shortly into the trees. What was the point? The shepherd left the sheep lying against the stone wall and herded the rest of the flock briskly out of the pen to the water and grass on the hillsides. He realized he was already behind schedule.

Hours later when he got back to the pen with the sheep for the night, the injured sheep was still there, barely. The animal weakly lifted its head.  Its eyes implored the shepherd to help.

In disgust, the shepherd turned away.  He’d have to get rid of that mess soon or the carcass would draw wolves and vultures, not to mention flies.

Some of the other sheep looked curiously at the sick one as they filed into their safe, clean pen for the night. A couple stopped with sheeply concern, but the shepherd impatiently flicked them with his rod to get moving.

The shepherd was tired and decided to leave the bloody sheep to die outside the wall of the pen. He would deal with it in the morning. He completely forgot about the animal and dozed off immediately.

In the morning, the injured sheep was gone. Surprised, the shepherd looked around. He hadn’t thought the sheep could move enough to get away.  There was a trail of blood behind that led to a grove of trees down the road. What relief. He hadn’t had to deal with the mess. The sun was rising in the eastern sky. It looked like a beautiful day ahead.

He was leaning against a leafy tree while his flock was grazing later that day when he spotted a dark cloud in the sky some distance away. It moved a bit closer, and he could see they were vultures. One by one they dropped down into a grove of trees. Probably the dead sheep, he thought. Good riddance. He looked with complacent eyes on the sheep from his fold, grazing on the hills. Time for a little nap, he thought, as the gentle breeze caressed his face.


Over the years of working in Christian radio, the various types of churches in America became evident. For many years, the seeker, church-growth, Peter Drucker-influenced model changed the landscape. Bill Hybels and Rick Warren, years ago, developed associations that smaller churches could join to help them imitate the supposedly successful Willow Creek and Saddleback models. Seminars by satellite are still beamed all over the country, as bright-eyed young pastors dream about church greatness and big crowds. That’s one type of American church.

I also addressed the dying mainline churches, churches that long ago abandoned the faith once delivered to the saints and replaced it with a form of baptized anthropology. They exchanged the truth for a lie. The stench of embalming fluid fills these places.  That’s another kind of church.

But there is yet another type of church that I didn’t address much on the program. I should have. These churches have highly biblical doctrinal statements, maintain their commitment to orthodoxy and root out even the slightest growth of false teaching. They are known for not compromising. They outwardly have  a look of health. Their parking lots are full on Sunday with committed parishioners. But there is a problem, and that problem flows from shepherds on down.

If I had to characterize the issue with this kind of problem church, I could do so easily.  No love. The shepherds of these churches can be seen above in the small illustration. They are utterly committed to their churches in the sense that no church service, program, no church sponsored event will be neglected or done in a half-baked fashion. The sheep are herded in, and herded out, like clockwork. The floors are polished. These pastors and churches are not given to change, ridiculous fads or innovation. They are always on time.

But there is a problem. Shepherds in these churches can be so committed to the sustaining of a schedule, to programs, to upcoming this and upcoming that, they can miss the trail of blood in their foyers where “sheep”, deeply wounded and desperately asking for help, have come in and gone out, without it.

Complacent eyes take on a type of blindness. It’s not that they can’t see anything. It’s that they cannot see those who matter most.  These “shepherds” cannot see the hemorrhaging sheep in front of them, asking for help, as their responsibility before God who is the owner of the flock.

They see programs, conferences, schedules, administrative things, opportunities, but the desperation in the face of a hurting person who does not fit the plan? No. That disrupts order. That requires something beyond what they are willing to give.  They have places to go and things to do.

Contrast this with the picture of the caring shepherd that our LORD gives in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 15.

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ ”

I have heard from so many through the years whose experiences are not primarily in circus churches with three rings and a trapeze in their ceilings, or mainline spiritual mortuaries. They are limping away, terribly wounded, from the third type of church—the ones that value doctrinal correctness and will not tolerate compromise, but they lack the one needful thing – the thing that is supposed to set them apart in the eyes of the world, the thing that heals and gives life to those who need extra care, because they have suffered terrible injuries. What’s missing is real love.

Shepherds in these places not only won’t leave the fold and  to locate a wandering “sheep”, they can’t be bothered with the bleeding “sheep”  right in front of them. The bleeding and wounded bring nothing but work. Their care is tedious. These sheep don’t nicely fit into a program, an activity, an orderly slot. So the shepherd looks away, progressively blind and deaf to the terrible need in front of him. Not only does he not care for them, he will not so much as call on an assistant to do so.

These shepherds may not even notice the dark cloud of vultures off in the distance, descending on the spiritual carcasses of  the sheep that slowly walked away.  They are busy with an itinerary their secretaries just ran off on the printer. Another opportunity awaits. There is no time for the wounded. No time.

My heart goes out to every single one who has come to what they thought was help, only to be ignored, neglected and passed by. Even a cursory reading of the Scriptures show that this model of “shepherd” is false in every respect.

Jesus Christ is the GOOD Shepherd. Again and again, we see the compassion and care of our Savior who heard the call of the blind, the beggar, the oppressed, the sick and the cripple. He touched the “untouchables” and healed them. The touch of love.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” cried the man by the side of the road. Unwashed, alone and in darkness, Jesus was his only hope. People told him to shut up, but he only cried louder, hoping against all hope that Jesus would hear.

What did the Good Shepherd do when he heard this man? Listen to the urging of his handlers to move on, as he had a scheduled appointment for teaching in Galilee? Did He head to an august council of great theologians and scholars to discuss fine points of the Law?

Here is what happened.

“When Jesus heard him, he stopped and ordered that the man be brought to him. As the man came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said, “All right, receive your sight! Your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus, praising God. And all who saw it praised God, too.” (Gospel of Luke, chapter 18)

The Lord heard the cry first, and then he responded. That cry was heard and acted upon. This is the example of a true shepherd.

I am sorry if any reading this have been injured by false shepherds. False shepherds are far more than those teaching erroneous doctrine or self-help, feel good messages. Any shepherd who does not have compassion that acts in the face of pain and injury is false.

All we can do, and we all need reminding of this in these brutal times of coldness and callous disregard in churches, is look to the Good Shepherd above by faith—the One who never fails, who hears our cries in mercy, and who tends to our wounds in love.

The Good Shepherd shows his love to us by sending other concerned “sheep” in our direction, people, those who encourage and who walk with us on the rough terrain on the winding path to the Celestial City.  We can urge each other on and help untangle things when some get caught in the brambles and minister to those who are sick.

May the Good Shepherd tend to your heart today if you are hurting. The LORD Jesus Christ is His name. Call on Him, the One who always hears.


Listen for the Hiss

In Genesis the story of Satan’s lies to the first humans is laid out. I have no doubt that the lies were not hissed by the serpent. The voice was probably lovely, beautiful and musical, shimmering with promise and glory.

But beneath that voice was the hiss of the serpent – the fallen angel –  who hated God and who was bound and determined to take down God’s highest creation, humankind.

The same lies that were there in the Garden of Eden are still around today.  (Genesis 3:5) Satan has no new material. It is simply repackaged for each generation by false teachers, the ones warned about in Holy Scripture. (See Christ’s words in Matthew 24:4-5 for just one example.) This is where every distortion and denial of the Gospel comes from in each generation of supposedly Christian churches.  Man is always exalted and lifted up as God, and God is diminished and denied. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s blatant.

This article here by Chad Bird  is an excellent repudiation of this teaching of man’s greatness that can be heard everywhere today, including in many supposedly Christian churches.  The state of our broken planet is not the result of our great fear of embracing our fantastic, all-powerful selves. The state of this shattered planet is the result of spiritual rebellion against God. Sin. And that’s why we needed Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice on Calvary.

Any so-called teacher, celebrity or otherwise, who is spreading the glories of man as savior, is at war with the heart of the Gospel message.  They are at war with God himself.  Their Gospel is not “watered down.” It is the anti-Gospel.  Listen for the hiss underneath the smooth talk. And then, as Chad Bird says so well, look to God instead.

 

 

 

 

Treasure Box at My Door

I am perpetually amazed at the way God works. The last two posts on this blog addressed just one problem of many in today’s churches.  Yes, the tone was negative and comments underscored the grief experienced by many where the lack of love in Christian churches, often starting at the pastoral level,  has had a tragic effect.

I found a large box on my porch the other morning. It was heavy.  Seeing it was sent to me, and not expecting any deliveries, I was curious.  Well, friends, it was a box of treasures—treasures so rich that I am still taking out the gems and admiring their facets.

It was a box of books, just the latest of many sent to me over the years from a long time friend who has an eye for literary riches of a spiritual nature. Occasionally, she sends them on to me. The books inside the box deserve a much longer post, because the story surrounding them is long. and each one is special. But because we had just been discussing pastors and churches here at the Hope Blog, and in a decidedly discouraging way,  one of the book treasures in that box is the topic here today.

I was at a church recently, the one I referenced in my first post on churches and looked down at the hymnal during the singing. The name underneath the hymn, the composer of the hymn tune, was William Henry Havergal. I smiled inwardly. His daughter Frances Ridley Havergal is the author of many familiar hymns still sung in hymn-using churches today. (Take My Life, and Let It Be, Like a River Glorious, and I Am Trusting Thee Lord Jesus are just three I will mention.) Her father was a great musician and also  wrote many hymn tunes familiar to hymn lovers.

William Havergal is the subject of one of the books in the box. I will write more on these new paperback books, freshly available, in a moment.

Here’s a little description of William Henry Havergal, an English pastor of the 19th Century.

William Henry Havergal (whose youngest child, Frances Ridley Havergal, is more known today) was a wonderfully gifted musician, both as a performer and as a composer, but he declined the offer of a music professorship at Oxford to enter pastoral ministry. Over nearly  five decades, his sermons, home visits, care of his flock, diligent ministry, was a “heart work,” bringing many to true faith in Christ and building up believers. His extant sermons (so few now remaining among the more than 2,500 briefly listed in his handwritten book, listing only the date, location, and Scripture text for the sermons he preached from 1816 to 1869) are gold, similar in valuable edification to Spurgeon, Ryle, Lloyd-Jones. The same as his written works, his life was a true example of the believer, and he could say like Paul, “be ye followers of me even as I also am of Christ.” He so much loved his Saviour, and earnestly wanted and sought for others to know and love Him. He is summed up in the Latin phrase that he would write, “Laus Deo.” “Praise be to God.” The Lamb is all the glory in Emmanuel’s land. This collection has the four volumes of his Sermons (all that have been found, leaving us wanting more), his sterling account of “A Wise and Holy Child,” nearly all of his extant hymns and poems, and a brief glimpse at his music compositions; at the end is his daughter’s biography Records of the Life of the Rev. William Henry Havergal, with also others’ statements and articles about him. His life and works can be described by these two comments that he said about his sermon (quoted in his daughter’s biography): “A lady calling, expressing her thanks to him for his sweet and comforting sermon, he meekly answered, ‘The Lord make it profitable, and then take all the praise.’ Another thanking him said it was a precious sermon. ‘Nothing in itself,’ he said, ‘all nothing; but the Lord can make it precious, and may He do so.’ ” (Taken from a longer portion on the back of the book, Works by William Henry Havergal.

Here are a couple other significant things said about this minister of the Gospel.

“He advised, he admonished, he sympathized; and, to the utmost of his means, he aided those who stood in need of aid.   An throughout his ministry he was eminently “faithful.”  HE did not hesitate, though he well knew the cost, to battle manfully with the vices and frivolities of the day. None could hearken to his conversation and think it possible to serve God and mammon.”

And this.

“…As genial as he was gentlemanly, refined in his tastes, high-souled, and gifted, his own immediate home circle, relatives and numerous friends, were all perfectly devoted to him; and no one could possibly approach him, even in a casual way, without feeling the radiation of Christian light and warmth from his heart and beaming face, for to the core he was a true man:  true to God, and true to his fellow men: ( from Biographical  Sketch of W.H.H. by Andrew James Symington)

Someone who commented on one of my earlier posts asked about what a true pastor  would look like in action. I think in these two brief descriptions of William Henry Havergal, you find the basics.   He had sympathy, a radiation of Christian light and warmth to all he met, a true man, true to God and true to his fellow men, he helped those in need to the full extent of his ability. In short, a pastor. A shepherd.

So I picked up this very large volume that contains the surviving sermons and other writings  of Rev. Havergal. This brings us to the other thing so frequently lamented today – the state of the pulpits—the sermons or lack thereof. Within seconds of picking up the book, I was plunged into a world of detailed, solid Bible teaching. The early messages in the book went straight to the Old Testament and emphasized the importance of Christians reading these books in depth, something frequently rejected today in favor of the New Testament alone. The first sermon I read was on the Ark of the Covenant. I won’t go any farther, except to say that the sermon contains rich, rich teaching, the like of which is  very rarely heard today in an American evangelical church.

You enter a different world with Old Path preachers when you read or hear their sermons.  They were serious men of God, with hearts of love for the listener, who spoke the truth, and did not hold back when they needed to say unpopular things. They always, always exalted Christ and preached the pure word of God to whose in their care.

My treasure box is filled with so much, I am still taking in what arrived at my door. It came at a time when I needed the encouragement. Isn’t that like the Lord? Elijah was in the cave and needed food, and it was brought to him by the ravens. This box came to me on the wings of the US Mail, sent by God’s own kindly hand through his loving servant, my friend.  How wonderful it is that  God still meets our needs before we even ask.

If you would like to know what was in my treasure box, go to Amazon.com and type in the search window the following words exactly. “Havergal Chalkley Paperback”. Every one of these books contains wonderful things.  The book I have referenced above about William Henry Havergal is here at this link. It is a large book. Some of the books in this collection of books are for children, written by Frances Havergal, some contain music from Frances and her father, some are devotionals. Click on each book listed on Amazon  for a description. On page 2 of the listings, you will find the Five Royal Books. These are the very first Havergal books I ever encountered years ago when we were in South Carolina. They are devotionals. If you start with those, you can’t go wrong.

William Havergal was a shepherd long ago.  Thanks to the work of those committed to seeing this project through, these sermons, and the beautiful writings of Frances Ridley Havergal, his daughter, have been brought to life again. They are here for a reason. Those needing spiritual food, comfort and a glimpse of real teaching need look no farther than these books.  God can send food with the “ravens” in these times of great spiritual poverty.  I know, because he sent a box of good spiritual food  straight to my door. And now I can share it with you.

(You can see my markers in the book in the box. I’m already using my post-it notes for page reference!)

Small Girl, Big Faith

fb_img_1485441432706Emily was not feeling well and was home from school last week. She wanted to watch kids’ shows on PBS, but I said, no, today was a books only day. She got propped up in bed and got her Bible story books, three different ones and spent the day, literally, immersed in them. About 11, she came into the family room where I was and had her face crumpled up with tears coming down. She held open the story of Jesus’ crucifixion with an illustration of Christ on the way to the cross. “This is so sad, Mom. They did this to Jesus.” She said several times, “It’s so sad…” We had a wonderful conversation about what it all meant. She also asked about the two criminals on the cross on each side of Jesus, how one believed and one did not, how Jesus triumphed over death by rising again, how He ascended into heaven and before He left, how He promised He was coming back. She came back several times with questions about Old and New Testament, and showed me the illustration of Jesus with the children, and then, she came back again with the story of Jesus healing the blind man, and again, showing the beautiful illustration of young Jesus at age 12, discussing the Law with the teachers in the Temple.

I have seen a great uptick of interest in our daughter about spiritual things lately. Her love for Jesus is real and it shines in her eyes when she talks about Him. It’s a very sobering responsibility to know that our children are watching and listening to us, and that we can either blunt that faith, destroy it, or nurture it, water it and help it to grow. Having this responsibility with Emily has been a great help to me spiritually. Why? Because the ugliness of this world, the harm done to us by the inexplicable evil we experience—especially from other professing Christians– can cause us to make shipwreck of our own faith. It’s in the simplicity and trust in a child’s eyes and praise that I find my way home again to the Lord many times, and I understand newly, nearly every day, why God places such value on the example of children in the area of faith. All our sophisticated thinking, intellectual pride and self-righteousness drop away when we look into the face of the Savior, like a child, and believe that his atoning wounds on Calvary covered our sin. Thanks be to God.

 

Treasures of Darkness

It’s 3am and blinding pain from one of my killer headaches wakes me from sleep. I stagger to the kitchen as quietly as possible and pour water into the Keurig to make a quick 20 oz of coffee. The only thing that helps.

The house is silent. Tom and Emily are  deep in sleep. I sit with the coffee, trying not to burn myself on the hot liquid–medicine for me that I can’t get down fast enough. I rock back and forth, back and forth in my rocker,  waiting for the moment when my head will ease.

The worst of the pain lets up, and I can think again. My mind drifts to each of my children and where they are in their lives.  The relief from the pain is growing, and every time, it brings tears to my eyes that I am feeling better. It’s some kind of response to the dissipation of pain and it happens every time. I pray for answers and help in our lives for a few minutes. Then I feel the need for a human voice. I pick up my phone next to me on the lamp table and find Alexander Scourby’s reading of the Psalms. The beauty and authority of his reading of Scripture is always a great comfort. I put my head back on the chair and listen to him begin.

 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.  And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.  For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

Somewhere in the Psalms that continue in Scourby’s lovely voice , I drift off to the familiar cadences of those beautiful, ancient words.  Relief, peace, the sense that God is near.

I recently saw a painting that depicted Jesus sitting on a bench with a young man. It was supposed to represent heaven, and the young man appeared to be asking questions. It made me wonder if we will be able to ask the Lord questions about this life and why things were the way they were. All the seemingly pointless suffering, meaningless pain and hurt.  Then it occurred to me that if we were going to remember the bad in this life, it wouldn’t be much of a heaven. Every tear, Scripture tells us, will be wiped away in that place where there is no need of the sun, because the light of the Lamb will be enough.  No more darkness. No more night.

I can’t pretend to understand what all our pain means in this life, only that in the darkness, in the night watches there are unexpected shafts of light, reminders of God, the God beloved of the Psalmist who played his harp beneath the starry skies on the hills, who wrote the words we still know today. Maybe in the bright light of day we are too quick to forget God, and it’s only when He allows us to awaken with pain that we are reminded of His presence. When we’re always strong, and able, and go from strength to strength in our own might, we tend to forget Him.  In our great need, we are driven to remember our frailty, that we are dust, and that all we have comes from our Creator’s kindly hand.

In the night watches of our lives, help us to find the treasures of darkness, Heavenly Father. Because they are there, waiting for us.

And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness–secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name. ~ Isaiah 45:3

night

 

 

 

 

 

When a Stronghold Falls

For the weapons of our warfare are not those of the world. Instead, they have the power of God to demolish fortresses.   ~ II Corinthians 10:4

Did you ever see a stronghold of the enemy fall? The enemy I refer to is the enemy of souls who the Scriptures describe as a “roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” In our world broken by sin, there are certain situations long dominated by the enemy that are his territory, and it seems that nothing will ever take down those fortress walls.

It does not often happen in this world that these walls fall. Every one of us knows of families, areas in society, or people who are under the sway of evil, and even prayer, no amount of it, will change that. Even churches can be a stronghold of evil and those committed to praying against it will sometimes end up leaving when nothing changes. (Just a note to such places – when the prayer warriors leave, that is a major warning sign that judgement is at the door. When God removes those who are on their knees in intercession, your days of warning are over.)

Only very rarely are we blessed to see a stronghold fall. But if you ever have, you will never forget it. I once saw a powerful fortress fall. Here’s what it took. It took ONE key person who did the right thing. One person to move from a seemingly immovable position. I often think of situations like this as a log jam in a river – logs forced together in such a way that they simply do not move and become a dam. But all it can take is movement in just ONE key log, and the dam blocking the flow of the river breaks apart.

When strongholds fall, God’s blessing is immediately evident. The fall of those walls will cause a small earthquake felt by many —the thunder of God at work to restore and to heal.

The fastest way to build a stronghold of evil is to shut out God’s call to our consciences, to sit in pride, especially pride or cowardice and silently witness evil done to others. We forget to self-assess or weigh our role in perpetrating or supporting evil, even tacitly. Years go by, relationships are lost, families or churches are destroyed. The ruins left behind on ground sown with salt become a monument to the work of Apollyon – the Destroyer. A Satanic trophy.

But God. There is a photograph from many years ago on a bookcase in my home that marks the earthquake of joy that occurred with the falling of one such stronghold. There are no smoking ruins in that photograph. It is a triumph of love over alienation, of joy over grief and anger, and it is the working of the Author of all that is good and beautiful.

Whenever I grow discouraged at the many strongholds with walls intact, I look at that photo and think, this is what God can do. I saw it happen before my eyes. We all need to see this at least once in our lives, especially now, when things around us are often so dark.

May 2017 see the work of God in the pulling down of strongholds in our lives, and may territory be taken back to the glory of Jesus Christ. He is able to do far more than we ask or think.

I hope to write more on this subject in the coming months. This blog is now in its 10th year, and I pray that those who stumble across it leave with hope that comes from our heavenly Father. God is not dead nor does He sleep.

walls

Just a Small Lighthouse

lighthouseThere is a children’s book that was originally published in 1942 called, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge, by Hildegarde Swift. My daughter and I read it the other night. It tells the story of the building of the great George Washington Bridge through the eyes of a little red lighthouse on the Hudson River (based on a real lighthouse that was once in this location.)

We read the story of how the little lighthouse originally felt proud and important to help keep the vessels on the river safe in fog and rough weather with its flashing warnings about the dangerous rocks on the shoreline. Its warnings, night after night, kept those on the river safe from harm.

But one day, a shadow fell on the lighthouse as a vast bridge was  built right over it. When the bridge was completed, the little lighthouse noticed  that a huge light from the top of the bridge was flashing against the sky.  It was a big, brilliant flashing light that far outshone its much smaller rays.

The lighthouses felt that it was no longer needed, because of the much more effective light at the top of the bridge.  It felt discarded and forgotten and useless. But there came a night when the fog closed in and the lighthouse saw the danger on the river that no light was shining upon. It waited and waited for the man to come who would turn on the light, but the man did not come. Finally, when all seemed to be lost, the man appeared. Someone had stolen his keys, delaying him. He lit the lamp in the lighthouse, and the  light beams immediately flashed out through the fog as a warning to the vessels in peril.

The little lighthouse was needed after all. It had been dark, though, because its lamp was out. It could not light itself, no matter how hard it wanted to. It required the one with the key to come and light it.  In the end, the small, red lighthouse learned that the big flashing light it thought had taken its place was designed to warn airplanes, not boats and barges on the river. Only he could do that.

When I read that story, a light came on in my own mind. What a beautiful metaphor for those of us who feel useless at some points in our lives. We see the bigger, grander lights erected around us, the ones that pierce the darkness so much more effectively  and in a much more professional manner. We sit in the dark and wonder if our use is at an end. It looks that way at times, doesn’t it? We can feel unwanted. Useless. Discarded. And then one dark night, when there is danger for someone traveling in the dark and the fog, we see it, and we want to help light the way. But our light has flickered and gone out. We’ve been forgotten, it seems. The only One who can light our lamp feels like they have gone forever.

And then, there is the sound of the key in the lock, and our  cold, dark  lamp is lit by a kind and steady hand.  The One who had the Master Key all along had to open the door to light our lamp.  Then the  Light flashes on, the darkness is lit by our small but steady, strong beam, and danger is averted for someone lost in the fog of this world.

Our light is needed, no matter how small we think it is.  We may never realize what it means to someone else. This morning I opened a Hope Blog contact form message from someone who wrote anonymously.  The writer sent words of kindness and blessing to me. Their light shone brightly for this one person today. That light was needed. Thank you to the kind man who sent that.  God bless you. May the One who alone can light our lamps come again to our hearts and give us His light to illumine  the darkness.

House with the Yellow Door

20161117_100215Tom has a tradition of planting trees at our homes (we have lived in six in 21 years.) He also has had a tradition of painting our doors a warm red color. The red was inviting, I think.  At our house in South Carolina, he also painted the shutters to match. The shutters had been a dull gray color, and it was a perfect color change for curb appeal.

At our snug ranch house where we moved last year, Tom is getting around to various projects, including putting up shutters a few weeks ago (a good improvement) and painting the bland, white front door. We were going to use red again, but Tom unexpectedly showed me a yellow color on a paint card. Against the white-ish brick on the front of the house, it looked cheerful and bright. So we now have a yellow door.

Every time I pull up to the house, it makes me smile. Along with the field stone borders he put around the little pines he planted and the same border under the Magnolia tree, it makes for a neat front yard.

We have such nice neighbors here. Emily is dear friends with our nearest neighbors whose little granddaughter comes over to play, in addition to the family on the other block who are friendly and helpful. Then there is the lady across the street who comes over with her little dachshund she adopted. Each day she comes by after school for Emily (as she did in the summer), and they take the little dog for a walk. I think Emily is good company for the lady and the dog, once very shy,  is warming up.

By contrast, the political scene has never been uglier in our country. Social media is filled with the carnage. I read the news and try to digest what is going on and end up depressed and discouraged. Whichever way the election would have gone, this was a guaranteed scenario with great anger on one side or the other. In spite of victory laps from political conservatives, I remain convinced this nation is in terrible peril. There are no political answers in this divided country, ultimately. I believe that more than ever. The answer is spiritual, but nobody is interested in that subject at present.  They await miracles from the new political messiah. We will see.

My news about our cheery yellow door isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but I thought of it as a metaphor in these dark times. As I have said before, life is really lived in the micro sphere of every day things and people. If Hillary Clinton had won and not Donald Trump, we would still get up every morning and do the little things that make up our lives. The little dachshund would still live across the street with her humans, Emily would still be found talking to the neighbors and making new friends all the time, and I would still spend my days making a home for my family as best I can.

I have learned that to be happy, we have to make a choice to be that way. There is a great deal of evil in the world, more now than ever.  We have all had wounds and hurt from that evil in our lives, some more than others. The losses evil people can cause are undeniable. Among so-called Christians, I am sorry to say that indifference, coldness and brutality are no less prevalent. Those perpetrating it and those who watch silently as enablers seem to go from strength to strength while their victims long for things to be made right. But, having said that, happiness and cheerfulness is still a choice. This is the only life we have, the one God gave us. I believe God does see the injustice and the evil, and in His time, He will vindicate, He will deal with those who have so disregarded His commands to love. Meanwhile, we are called to live in the light.

So don’t hesitate to “paint your door yellow.” Or to put it another way, smile just because, be thankful for what you have, and do a little happy dance, if nothing else, in defiance of the joy killers who seem to so populate the earth these days. I do that. I am home alone a great deal. I put on music sometimes when I am down. My kitchen has a big slippery, laminate  floor, and Em and I do our own dances in our socks until we laugh ourselves silly. Last night, we listened to Sleigh Ride and several other Christmas songs (I know, I know, it isn’t Thanksgiving yet.)  Whatever you do, don’t give in to the darkness. God is the author of joy, not despair. God is in His heaven still. By looking up and not around us, we can remember that best.

God is Near in Song

sing2Music has always been a big part of my life. Thanks to inexpensive LP records at Treasure Island (a discount store in our area back in the 70’s), we had more than just gospel music at home. Mom bought everything from John Phillip Sousa, Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony (I wore that one out), Johnny Mann’s choral music, E. Power Biggs organ albums, and many others. I played these on the stereo at home a lot. We took piano lessons at the Wisconsin Conservatory as children, and my sister and I sang with a Christian singing group that traveled around the country each Easter break for years.  In addition, our Lutheran day school taught music reading as part of our curriculum along with sacred music in choir.   We learned American folk songs and lots of wonderful hymns that we sang in chapel and in class devotions.

Also, I heard gospel music long before it was so commercialized with slick pop stars, back when it really was about the great old songs, not so much the performers. As kids, my siblings and I fell asleep late at night  many times on our coats at the Christian radio station where our parents worked in Milwaukee’s central city, the Haven of Rest radio program  on the speakers in the ceiling. This recording here of their theme song with the bells takes me straight back to those times years ago.

As a young adult, I became familiar with a broader range of hymnody on CD, Psalm singing of various kinds (metrical Psalms from Scotland, Anglican chant, etc.), and the grand festival hymns of the English choral tradition. I interviewed John Rutter once about his wonderful compositions and I have the CD’s of his hymns that are unequaled, as far as I am concerned, in excellence.  I also bought St. Olaf’s choir CD’s, the choir of Gustavas Adolphus (I love their Scandinavian hymn CD), and so forth.

For a time, I drifted away from the gospel songs I grew up with, but as I have grown older, I find myself coming back again to the songs I used to hear in congregational singing and from recording artists like George Beverly Shea. In the last few years, these sweet old songs have been a tremendous comfort to me.

Scripture talks about Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs—three separate categories, That’s because each category serves a purpose of its own. It’s not that you can’t sing a hymn of worship on your bed on a sleepless or pain-filled night, but often that is when the gospel songs mean the most.  They speak of God’s immanence, his closeness to us through Christ–our Savior who knows what it is to suffer and to walk on this earth as a human.  Hymns of worship emphasize God’s transcendence, his sovereignty and greatness, his holiness, something we also acknowledge. But when hurting, the closeness of God is what we tend to need most.

I once stood next to my grandma, Mary, in a church service where they were singing the Fanny Crosby song, “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.” I heard her sweet quavering voice next to me. Do you know, I never forgot it, and every time I hear that song, I remember her and her faith. The words of that song, penned by the blind Crosby,  reflect Luther’s deathbed words, “We are beggars all.”  No matter how strong we think we are, in the end, we are dependent completely on the Savior passing by our place of need. (See the story of Bartemaeus)

Pass me not, O gentle Savior,
Hear my humble cry;
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.

Refrain:
Savior, Savior,
Hear my humble cry,
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.

Let me at Thy throne of mercy
Find a sweet relief;
Kneeling there in deep contrition,
Help my unbelief.

Trusting only in Thy merit,
Would I seek Thy face;
Heal my wounded, broken spirit,
Save me by Thy grace.

Thou the spring of all my comfort,
More than life to me,
Whom have I on earth beside Thee,
Whom in Heav’n but Thee.

~ Fanny J. Crosby

I recently discovered a YouTube channel of congregational singing including many of these old gospel songs. I am a big fan!  When I can’t get to church, I watch these videos and sing aloud. I know many of these hymns by heart and don’t have to reference the words. Here is one such song that I love, and another beneath it. The channel is called “Faith for the Family” from Temple Baptist Church in Powell, Tennessee. If you’re blessed by these dear old songs, check it out and sing along. One of the things I notice are the young faces in the congregation, and many of them are really singing these. How wonderful that another generation will know these treasures.

Here are the words of this song, “He Hideth my Soul.” Another of Fanny Crosby’s compositions, the text is based on Exodus 33:22

A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,
A wonderful Savior to me;
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
Where rivers of pleasure I see.

Refrain

He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life with the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,
And covers me there with His hand.

A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,
He taketh my burden away;
He holdeth me up, and I shall not be moved,
He giveth me strength as my day.

Refrain

With numberless blessings each moment He crowns,
And filled with His fullness divine,
I sing in my rapture, oh, glory to God
For such a Redeemer as mine!

Refrain

When clothed in His brightness, transported I rise
To meet Him in clouds of the sky,
His perfect salvation, His wonderful love
I’ll shout with the millions on high.

Isn’t it wonderful to know that despite the world’s foundations being rocked by turmoil and fear these days, our souls, as Christians, are hid with God, in Christ. He hides our souls and covers them with his hand.

This one is the earliest song I remember singing in church, back at First Christian and Missionary Alliance on 60th street in Milwaukee. It’s hard not to join in joyfully with that refrain. “Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the earth hear his voice, Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, let the people rejoice. O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son, and give Him the glory, great things he has done!”

The Apostle Paul and Silas, imprisoned at Phillipi for sharing the Gospel, are recorded in Scripture as singing in their chains (just before the earthquake that set them free.  See Acts, Chapter 16) We cannot change circumstances in our lives so often, but we can sing anyway. Our song comes from the knowledge that our God “plants his footsteps in the seas, and rides upon the storm.” He is with us, come what may in this life. And soon, we will see Him in a place where no tear will ever dim our eyesight. What a day that will be.

I hope these are as much of a blessing to you as they are to me!